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To Dye Or Not To Dye

My advice to all women of a certain age: Bring on the hair dye; you have nothing to lose but your years, writes Seema Goswami.

fashion and trends Updated: Sep 02, 2008 17:14 IST
Seema Goswami

As a hair colour virgin, I was outraged when a colleague leaned across one day and asked, “Do you dye your hair?” I had just turned thirty then and grey hairs were something that happened to other people. So, I hissed back angrily, “Of course not! Why would you say something like that?”

He had the grace to look abashed. “Um, it’s just that it looks so very black.” Perhaps, I replied with all the dignity I could muster, but it was completely natural for all that. <b1>

It wasn’t long before, though, that I succumbed to the lure of hair colour like most other women of my generation. In my case, the decision was precipitated by a particularly disastrous haircut. A friend, whose head of discreet highlights I had always admired, finally tired of my incessant carping and booked me an appointment with her colourist.

Tempted by the thought of deflecting attention away from the mother of all bad haircuts I gave in. And an hour later as I watched my jet-black hair transformed into a glinting, gleaming mass of chocolate, chestnut, even gold, depending on how the light hit it, I was hooked. I had become a colour convert and now there was no looking back.

But as my friends and I have gotten older, things have become a little more complicated. As the grey makes its appearance around our temples, suddenly we find ourselves bang in the middle of the colour wars. To dye or not to dye is the question that obsesses us all.

And truth be told, it is difficult to answer with a simple yes or no. I have lost count of the number of friends who announced proudly that they would never dye their hair – they believed in embracing whatever age bestowed on them, wouldn’t you know? – only to hastily backtrack when the greying began in earnest.

As life teaches us, it is easy to be sanguine about the depredations of age before they actually start knocking on your door. Once it’s your hair that’s starting to go grey, colour begins to look a lot more attractive.

That’s not to play down the nuisance value of dyeing your hair: it takes time, money and commitment. And there are times when it can seem too much of a bother. But it is a brave woman who can face the appearance of two-inch long grey roots with fortitude (and without booking an emergency appointment with her colourist).

Of course, there is an inherent confidence in letting your hair go grey; it implies a certain insouciance about the way you look. These women refuse to succumb to artifice, they are happy to embrace a completely natural look. Ergo, they must be happy with the way they look.

Perhaps it’s this sense of self-worth that accounts for the tinge of moral superiority that envelopes the greying brigade. They greet ambiguous remarks like, “Oh, how brave of you to go grey!” with smug, self-satisfied smiles. And they regard their sisters who colour with barely concealed disdain, touched with just a smidgeon of pity.

Just as well then that the Glad to be Grey bunch comprises a teeny-tiny minority. Most women take to the bottle quite enthusiastically the moment the white hair begins to outnumber the black. And soon thrice-weekly colour appointments become part of their beauty routine.

So, despite all the fuss and palaver it entails, why do they do it?

Well, first and foremost, it is vanity. Coloured hair simply looks better. Rare is the woman who can pull off white hair with élan. You need a perfect complexion, killer cheekbones and a great deal of chutzpah to carry off grey hair. Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada) and Waheeda Rehman may look gorgeous with a silver or grey mop but the rest of us ordinary mortals just look old and tired. <b2>

Yes, we probably are old if we need to dye our hair. But show me a woman who is happy to look her age and I will show you a liar. However much we may swear otherwise, we all want to look like our younger selves for as long as we can. We don’t want to gaze in the mirror and see an old woman staring back at us. And nothing says old woman quite like grey hair.

That’s a death knell in an ageist society like ours where youth is at a premium and to appear old is to render yourself invisible – more so when you are a woman. Men may get away with being ‘silver foxes’ because grey hair is thought to look distinguished on them. Women just look past it.

That’s where a lick of hair dye can be a godsend in both your professional and personal life. Of course, people will know that you have had some help along the way. But so long as you present the appearance of youth, you will be perceived as being young.

The reason 40 or 50 looks the way it does these days owes something to diet and exercise. But mostly, it’s down to hair dye. If you want to look younger, then resorting to the bottle is half the battle won.

Hence, my advice to all women of a certain age: Bring on the hair dye; you have nothing to lose but your years.